Lexington fire officials are working on a staffing plan that should end the need for ‘brown outs.’ It may take about a year to fully implement a fix. For several months, Lexington has used ‘brown outs’ to cope with staffing shortages. Usually, it means taking fire trucks out of service. It can leave some neighborhoods with partial protection. Currently, Lexington has 482 firefighters. When that number increases to 536, Chief Keith Jackson says the brownouts should end.
“We can’t put a band aid on a laceration. We have to fix the problem. And personnel is the key to us fixing the problem,” said Jackson.
New recruits come on board in March and another class of firefighters is in the works, so Jackson says brownouts could end early next year. Until then, up to three fire trucks a day could be off-line. Assistant Chief Harold Hoskins says it can certainly slow response time.
“We will get people there within that eight minutes, but we’re not meeting that four minutes. So, we’re not totally unprotected when we brown out a station, but yes there are places that do have less than an adequate service,” added Hoskins.
Returning council member Jennifer Mossotti also wants an end to brown outs. She says Lexington has been testing its luck.
“I think we have to really seriously the ramifications of not having these stations open or these engines closed because we’ve been lucky so far, but the next time we may not be so lucky,” said Mossotti.
City officials say they’ve made great strides in the last couple of years cutting overtime costs, from more than two million dollars in 2008 to just over 100 thousand dollars last year. Further funding for firefighters will be decided this spring as the mayor and Lexington’s council create a new budget.